Given the UK’s target of achieving net-zero by 2050, this report presents the results of a project providing a review of the factors influencing the adoption of smart home technology. The focus of this project is on users/consumers and energy consumption at the household level, in terms the data and digital technologies for smart-home energy management. The main aim was to understand what the key factors are that aid or hinder consumers’ energy consumption reduction, assisted by the adoption of smart technology. This is important because consumers can act as vital actors in achieving the net-zero target. Still, they do not necessarily have the capacity to engage, the opportunity to participate or willingness to take the risk related to innovation adoption. The above challenges are more likely to apply to low-income and/or vulnerable consumers.
In order to address this aim and knowledge gaps, we conducted a literature review of both academic and industry sources on this topic. A wide range of factors were identified as drivers of smart energy technology adoption, and these have been grouped into six main categories: consumers’ perceived costs and benefits; environmental factors; perceptions and characteristics of the smart home systems; users' characteristics; support networks and communities; and, finally, policy, industry and regulation. Subsequently, based on these factors, we synthesised and developed a framework that is underpinned by corresponding pillars and that depicts the multiple interactions believed to concomitantly influences users' evaluation and adoption of smart home energy technology. Following the findings of this project and the developed framework, a series of recommendations are made below.
- Both financial and non-financial benefits of smart technologies should be presented to the customer/user, alongside an honest assessment of the known risks, at all points of the adoption journey.
- High functionality of smart home systems need to also be accompanied by appropriate controls and safeguards to allow tailored use, dependent on individual needs.
- Smart home systems should be built with flexibility and interoperability, with added reassurance that health and wellbeing needs will not be detrimentally impacted.
- Manufacturers of smart home technologies should follow the principle of inclusion by design and ensure that their products are designed with users to address a wide range of needs and barriers.
- Organisations should have a strategy to engage with users experiencing digital exclusion and/or technology anxiety, implementing appropriate mitigating actions to improve accessibility.
- Manufacturers should provide reassurance that the “adjustable green defaults” will work in the most efficient way possible, and that software will encourage users to become more efficient through machine learning, behaviour nudges, and small adjustments to levels of comfort over time.
- Frontline workers and installers should be trained to give appropriate advice and education to users before, during, and after the installation of smart technologies. This advice should be accessible and tailored to the specific needs, preferences, and vulnerabilities of each user.
- Further research should be undertaken to better understand the optimal matching of different user groups to the advice providers that they are most likely to consider trustworthy and expert, and appropriate support needs to be offered to maximise the value of smart home technologies.
- Government policies need to consider the accessibility of smart home technologies for fuel poor, low-income and/or vulnerable users to ensure they are not left behind and can fairly access the benefits these technologies can provide.
- Data security and privacy statements should adhere to data protection regulation(s) and be provided at all stages of the smart home process in an honest, accessible, comprehensive, and easy to understand manner.
- To mitigate the risks of miscommunication or misselling in a growing market, future regulation need to include standards for communication, customer redress, a code of conduct for interacting with customers, and the mechanism to share good practice.
- As a participant in the energy industry, the smart technologies sector should adopt an enhanced definition of vulnerability to ensure that no products or services detrimentally impact consumers.
- The framework should be further developed through stakeholder and user testing, to ensure that the identified factors are accurate and appropriate solutions are proposed.